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A 'fighter' for the cause of environment, preservation of water bodies in Hyderabad

By Sandeep Pandey, Venkatesh Narayanan, Kushagra Kumar*

Dr Lubna Sarwath is a fighter. In a survey conducted by the leading South Indian daily Deccan Chronicle the residents of Hyderabad have highlighted conservation of environment as a priority issue on which they would like their Mayor to focus on and Lubna has dedicated her life to the cause of environment, specifically preservation of water bodies, and that is why she has emerged as the most suitable choice for the Mayor of the city in this survey.
She is, however, the lone candidate representing her Socialist Party (India) for the elections to the posts of corporators in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. For this reason there is also a demand from the people for direct election to the post of Mayor. The GHMC elections have now become very high profile with the entry of Prime Minister, Home Minister and Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh as campaigners.
Lubna Sarwath has raised the issue of names of voters appearing multiple times in voter rolls just on the eve of elections and filed a petition in Telangana High Court against the State Election Commission among others pleading for postponement of elections in her ward No 72, Asifnagar, until the voters list is purged. She has also demanded, in the interest of democracy, to make the voters list available to the general public 30 days before the issue of notification for any election.
When she requested for electoral rolls as a candidate it was made available to her on November 27, 2020, four days before polling, at a cost of Rs 3,600 which she was asked to pay in cash. The electoral rolls to all recognized parties are made available free of cost. She has protested against this anomaly and also against cash payment when all other payments are now being made electronically.
In her random survey of electoral rolls for five polling stations out of a total of 61 falling in her ward, Lubna found that 129 names are duplicated, two triplicated and two quadrulplicated. Given that in ward elections sometimes the margin of victory may be just a few hundred votes, this discrepancy is serious.
It is quite bizarre that when she lodged a complaint with the Telangana State Election Commission she was advised to prepare the list of fraudulent voters and hand them over to the on duty polling officers on the day of polling through her agents. The abdication of responsibility by Election Commission, which can be considered its primary duty, to provide defect free voter rolls, raises doubt on the non-partisan nature of its functioning.
She contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and casted her vote in 2016 GHMC elections. When she wanted to contest the 2018 Telangana Assembly elections she found her name missing from voter rolls. She refused to fill the form to add her name to the electoral roll because she didn’t want to state the untruth that her name was to be added anew. She argued that her name was fraudulently removed and must be restored by election officials rather than she be required to fill a form for new addition to the rolls. She won and her name was restored.
Lubna Sarwath holds a PhD from Trisakti University, Jakarta, Indonesia, and has attended a women leadership course at Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore. She has been working in public domain on environmental, political, educational, health and governance issues and will continue to work irrespective of the results of the elections. She combines integrity with courage and passion and professes universal value of harmony among human beings and with nature.
Hyderabadis deserve a governance and development that is corruption free, pollution free, fully-transparent, all time responsive and not avoid people's questions
Lubna Sarwath has filed many cases in National Green Tribunal and other courts for preservation of water bodies not just in Hyderabad but also in Nellore, Khammam and Karimnagar districts of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Prominent among these are cases for protection of Hussain Sagar lake, drinking water lakes Usman Sagar and Himayat Sagar. In Karimnagar she took up the issue of vanishing water inside a temple where people take holy dip because the pond which supplied water located outside the temple was being encroached upon for promotion of tourism.
No ward committee meetings have been held for the past five years -- sabotaging the entire spirit of the decentralisation of power through Urban Local Bodies as mandated by the 74th Constitutional amendment. Lubna wants all decisions related to development works be taken in ward meetings in a transparent manner. Lubna is spearheading a change to bring to the forefront the real issues of the people, and addressing them through concrete legislative and budgetary initiatives.
She is the founder of a local grassroots organisation determined to make the Right to Education and adult literacy a reality for even the most marginalized residents of the ward. She continuously interacts with authorities to keep students in school and engaged -- and this initiative has spread by word of mouth.
The challenges she has faced in her activism are multifarious. The stark inequalities and power imbalances found among the residents of the ward makes change difficult. There are upper and middle class owned swanky apartments adjoining sprawling slums with little or no sanitation facilities. The development process of the government has completely disowned the poorer residents, whose cause Lubna advocated vociferously.
Lubna says that advertised government schemes are of no help to ward residents. For example, a Rs 1 lakh grant to female girls at the age of 18 seems directed at allowing the payment of their dowry rather than positively effecting social change by helping young women achieve their educational and financial goals. A recent flood-relief financial hand-out from the government was hijacked and corrupted to buy residents’ votes with a fraction of the money actually given.
Dr Lubna’s priority is to empower the citizens of these localities. As she points out, with the ULB's failure to implement grounds-up decision making, budgetary allocations are done in an opaque manner, encouraging nepotism and allowing contractors to enrich themselves. As a result, residents lack even basic facilities, from access to clean water and reliable healthcare to public hygiene including a working drainage system. Lubna is determined to put the voices of the marginalised at the center of her plan for the future of the community.
Her commitment to bringing real change and ensuring complete transparency in her work makes her a unique and highly promising candidate. Her resolve to make a difference comes not just from the fact that she is herself a resident of the ward but also because she already has plenty of dirt under her fingernails. 
She brings a kind of hands-on knowledge of the issues of the ward that other candidates simply do not have. She also brings an evidence-based, transformative plan -- which draws on real social, economic and demographic data rather than merely being a Public Relations exercise.
Hyderabadis deserve a governance and development that is corruption free, pollution free, fully-transparent, all time responsive and not avoid people's questions.
---
*Sandeep Pandey is vice president of Socialist Party (India), Venkatesh Narayanan is software technology management professional, Kushagra Kumar is a student

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